Kathy and I have a ritual late in every Advent season to watch the movie, “The Star,” about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The reason I like it is because the sentimentality factor that sugar coats the Birth of Jesus is almost non-existent. The story is earthy, bringing to life as much as can be possibly imagined about the human element that the Divine led Mary and then Joseph through in order that we might read, “And it came to pass….”
Mary’s response to Gabriel, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” later becomes Joseph’s response as both of them work together attempting to follow the vision of God. While waiting for the child to be born they are centering their attention on the presence and direction of God. Like Mary and Joseph is not our challenge the same: centering our attention on God in the midst of all the surprises that come our way. Here we find out how God works: waiting is an individual experience and yet it can be shared corporately.
Mary’s visitation by Gabriel: a solitary experience. Whom would she tell? Waiting to see her cousin Elizabeth 65 miles away near Jerusalem. Who is the person you would trust most with your innermost important secret? Then the family. No one would understand. Have you ever been blamed and misunderstood for something you didn’t do and had no way to prove it?
Then there’s Joseph: How to trust Mary’s word in spite of evidence against all odds? Then the dreams. Have you ever had a dream vivid enough that you remembered it? Did the dream mean anything? How did Joseph trust his dream? Does God still speak to us in dreams or are dreams superstitions of the old ways?
So much to be attentive to. But then the government takes its turn. Just weeks to delivery and Mary and Joseph must journey on foot and the backside of a donkey to Bethlehem 70 miles away. Rocky, dry terrain, filled with highwaymen. No exits for fast food on the way. No Motel 6 meant camping out. Vulnerability of the highest order.
So many details and diversions during the waiting period. How did Mary and Joseph maintain their attention on their highest purpose of all: The birth of the Chosen One? What could have happened within them that they risked everything – their very lives to give birth to the Holy Mystery within Mary’s womb? Surely the words of Psalm 137 crossed their memories: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” ‘Foreign’ can also mean people, places, experiences, situations and challenges that are foreign.
Christmas back then and Christmas now are different. Back then, the birth was manifested to the world. Now, the birth of Jesus is waiting to be born within us. We are waiting to be born. Something within us is yearning to be born. I have a hunch that that “something” is Some One.
How do we pay attention to the presence of God during the harried moments of our daily lives? How is it that we are able to hear, read, see or feel God’s signals? Do we act on
impulse, thought or do we wait for direction?
Waiting with awareness is extremely active, demanding our full attention.
Wait well, my friends.
May the Peace from Above be planted within you.
Part 2: The Problem of Evil in Mythology
Since the beginning of time, cultures and their religions have tried to account for the presence of evil and its destructive forces in nature. Turning on the news leaves little doubt that there are destructive forces in the world and it seems as if sometimes seems as if some are possessed by a devil. Sanford writes that both Analytical Psychology and mythology share a common view: that autonomous psychic factors beyond conscious control afflict persons or groups which are both destructive to themselves and others. Also, outside of physical reality there is an inner spiritual reality. This line of thought runs counter to the prevailing world view based on sensory experience which limits itself to the material world. Instead, present day culture believes that the evils of our time do not exist in the human soul or spiritual sphere, but have political or economic causes, and could be eliminated by a different political system…does not want to see that the enemy is to be found in the devils and demons in himself.
The late Morton T. Kelsey, Episcopal Priest corroborates Sanford’s premise that at the origins of evil and the reality of a destructive principle: …secular man in this century has been brainwashed by materialistic thought. In a rational and materialistic world, there is no place for such a principle of destructiveness. It is neither rational nor material, and so it cannot exist. If one is to consider the possibility that evil is something more substantial than just the absence of good, then he has to overhaul his whole world view, and this is a very painful and difficult task. It is better simply to deny the reality of any such principle out of hand.
Early Christian heresies of Gnosticism and Manichaeism project a split between good and evil, the spiritual as good and the material world as evil. American Indian mythology was perplexed at the Christian idea of a satanic being. They accepted it as a fact that human beings combine in themselves both good and evil, and did not need to invoke the idea of a devil to explain why some people had a bad heart and some a good heart. Mankind has a dual nature. Most mythologies have two assumptions: the autonomous power of evil that is beyond man’s control and there is a balance of opposites in life or polarities, such as light being opposed by darkness.
In-depth psychology accepts the reality of the dark side to human nature that can refuse to be assimilated into the good. If we deny the possibility of evil in ourselves by trying to be better than we are (loss of humility) then we risk that evil may run rampant through us because what we are unconscious of can control us.
Next: Evil in the Old Testament
Oftentimes I find that the older books I’ve read in years past actually have a more profound grasp of the subject matter they address. One of these texts is by the late John Sanford, an Episcopal Priest. I read his book, Evil: The Shadow Side of Reality, many years ago. I recalled Sanford’s work in the context of the tragedy at Sutherland Springs. I’ll be reading and reflecting on this work in future editions. One thought that Sanford conveyed is that wherever there is evil, there is suffering. I ponder if the converse of that statement is true. Perhaps our culture is looking in places for answers that have none to offer. Perhaps a greater understanding of what evil is and proven ways of addressing it (today’s image of best practices) might be worth our while to explore. Sanford addresses the history of an understanding of evil in the Old Testament, New Testament and in-depth psychology. I find the connections between in-depth psychology and the biblical understanding to be quite fascinating.
More to come.
May the peace of God pervade your entire being.
And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. Luke 24:49
The disciples were not yet ready to go out into the world. Jesus told them to wait until they were clothed with power from on high. What is your favorite clothing outfit? Perhaps you choose your favorite clothing because of color, fabric, style of cut, how well it allows your skin to breathe when the heat becomes oppressive? Clothing covers us. Swaddling clothes were used to keep infants feeling secure, as if they were being held. What is it like to feel like that we are being held by God? There are no words to describe the bliss. Clothing is the first thing other people usually notice about us. Hopefully there’s more engagement for our true selves to be mutually revealed. What kind of clothing is Jesus talking about? It’s obvious that he is talking about Holy Spirit—the Presence of God, not just with us but within us so that In Him, we live and move and have our being (Acts 17).
I have to be honest and I wonder if you can identify with me? Some days I’m not clothed very well before I go out into our community and into the world. Some days I am less grounded than I would like to be. Other days, perhaps a little restless. Other days perhaps a little irritated. Then I often make the mistake where I choose not to wait until I allow the Spirit to create a new set of clothing for me. Other times I have to ask for this when I’m on the run because responsibilities dictate that I must respond. But Jesus is very clear: we are to wait until we receive Power from on high that is now given to us from within. Else we will respond (more so react) instead of the Christ within us responding. Which will give the greatest quality of response?
This waiting to be clothed from on high applies to any and every day situations we might encounter. At this moment, I would like to clothe ourselves appropriately to address another tragedy—this one being closer to home: the church shooting in Sutherland Springs. How can we respond with spiritual insight that will transcend our egoic fear?
Waiting to be clothed with the power from on High means that we take enough moments to be aware of how we are reacting or responding within. Reactivity comes from our ego. Not that this is necessarily bad but unless guided by Holy Spirit, we can fall into fear and anxiety, which is not the better condition in which to respond. Wisdom and peace are far better guides when we are clothed from on High.
Data from 2010 reports that there are approximately 25 million plus churches in Texas. The probability that a church shooting would happen in Luling is beyond minuscule in nature. Yet wisdom dictates that we be responsible in order to be aware of our surroundings for prevention purposes and seek a comprehensive safety plan. Now the trick comes in: how can we be aware without being afraid? The last thing I want to have happen is for us to gather to receive Word, Sacrament and fellowship and for us to forget to wait until we are clothed with power from on high so that nothing will ever separate us from our experience of the love of Christ (Thanks, St. Paul). We want fear to be released so we can focus on where Life is to be found.
But there’s even a greater calling in all of this. I believe that God is calling us to a mission here. Perpetrators of events such as these are alienated and mentally ill—metaphorically, not being clothed by the Spirit at all. Most of all they are spiritually sick. I read research recently that reveals that every measure of human well-being across all ethnic and racial lines is highly dependent on the stability of the family system, specifically if the marital executive system is healthy. Poverty, educational development, psychosocial development are dependent on the stability of the family system in which children are raised. This doesn’t mean that marriages or the people in them are perfect. Far from it. Yet it only takes a little yeast to leaven the whole loaf. Spiritual integrity is the core of a healthy family system. I’m not saying that everyone has to be married to be healthy and happy. But the research reveals that a spiritually and mentally sound family system works like an incubator to help children develop healthy lives.
Another part of mission, I believe, is how we respond to events such as these on a day to day basis. When we’re at coffee or lunch with a friend, talking on the phone, how to we dialogue about tragedies such as this? At what level of awareness do we converse and respond? Jesus was pretty clear about this. We’re back to waiting to be clothed with power from on High again. We can focus on many things such as how horrible it is, the details of the events, politics (God forbid!) and so on. Perhaps a better discussion would be to wrestle with the question: “How do I respond to evil? An example of a real core of our mission is to perhaps pray for the perpetrators. Not so easy when we’re angry. But by prayer for our perpetrators, our anger will soon disappear and so will our fear underlying it because we will have been clothed from on High. We can pray for perpetrators or our perceived enemies without allowing ourselves to be victimized by them. Self-care and self-defense is part of the Christian tradition. Perhaps we know a family who could use a little extra kindness. Christian mission isn’t about fixing people or their situations because we can’t. That’s above our pay grade. It’s about helping others to heal by being Christ to them.
It all comes down to allowing ourselves to be clothed from on High. The Holy Scriptures are the greatest fashion book in the world.